Blood, Bones and Butter

by Lisa Rosen on June 16, 2011

Gabrielle Hamilton, owner of Prune restaurant in New York, has written a memoir.  This, in itself, is not huge news–chef/foodie memoirs come out all the time, and there’s at least one every year that gets big headlines and good sales.

Blood, Bones and Butter is different from most of the others.  It’s a beautiful, well-written, skillfully-crafted book.  I have no idea what her food is like (I’m still kicking myself for not going to Prune when I was in New York a few weeks ago), but I do know that Hamilton is a talented writer.  Scattered throughout the book are lyrical passages that I read and re-read, for the sheer pleasure of the words.

The book is not really about restaurants.  Or about food.  Or even about the making of a top-notch chef.

Instead it’s about one woman’s fairly screwed-up life, and what she does with it.  Food–as work and as pleasure–is important, of course, but more often than not, it’s a metaphor, or a lens through which Hamilton understands and interprets her world.  Food, for her, is a symbol, or a method of communication, or an expression of love.

Ultimately, I think, this is true for all of us who have moved beyond basic subsistence–how we cook, what we eat, and with whom–all take on great significance, perhaps because they are such a fundamental part of life.  Hamilton writes about food in a way that covers the range of our experience, without too much of the heavy-handed “insider’s view” that so often makes me want to stop eating in restaurants altogether (although, if you’re a fan of huge catered meals for several hundred, you might find yourself having second thoughts).

What I loved most was her honesty–she doesn’t hesitate to explore her own screw-ups and mistakes, her bad behavior, or the personality quirks that make her prickly and difficult.  She doesn’t shy away from her own culpability in her dysfunctional relationships.  She paints herself as neither perfect nor innocent.

Only in two cases (albeit important ones) did I feel she missed the mark–I didn’t feel like I really understood her relationships with either her mother, or Michele.  I won’t say more than that, because I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, but I’d love for some of you to read it, and tell me whether you agree.

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